Located close to Gatlinburg, but a world away, this stream offers great fishing and fantastic scenery.
On The Fly Freshwater
By Jim Casada
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
Known to locals simply as Greenbrier and sometimes shown on maps as the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River, Greenbrier Creek in the rugged northwest portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is a gem for those who revel in wild trout, the mixture of challenges and rewards presented by small streams, and breathtaking natural beauty.
Located quite close to the popular vacation destination of Gatlinburg, the creek flows under Tennessee Highway 73 six miles away and light years distance when one contrasts the peaceful setting with the shoulder-to-shoulder bustle of the nearby tourist town. Greenbrier provides multiple options for the angler. For the first mile or so of Greenbrier Road, which turns off Highway 73 at the bridge over it, the creek runs parallel to the road, which leads to the ranger station, Here pull-offs afford parking where you can be at streamside in mere moments, and the same thing holds true for an additional 2 1/2-mile stretch of road beyond the ranger station. From that point on, there is access by shank’s mare along the 1.7 miles of trail that leads to where Greenbrier Creek and Ramsay Prong unite. The trail gets a lot of foot traffic by hikers headed to spectacular Ramsay Cascades, but precious few of them are fishermen. When it comes to truly getting back of beyond, the trail from road’s end to the Cascades ends abruptly at an old turnaround known as Guyot Spur, and beyond this there is no trail. If you want to fish, the creek becomes your path in and out.
As is true of a number of streams in the park, especially on the Tennessee side, Greenbrier is surprisingly wide open for a creek of its size. That is thanks to the towering main spine of the Appalachians serving as a sort of barrier to weather fronts that produces heavy rains. These, when combined with terrain that is steep and rugged even for the Smokies, translate to periodic flooding that keeps streamside vegetation at bay. Greenbrier is a creek characterized by lots of massive boulders, plunge pools aplenty, ample casting room in many places, and a degree of ruggedness that will leave even a fit fisherman deliciously tired at day’s end.
As for the fishing, this is a drainage that can produce a Smokies slam in the form of a ‘bow, brown, and speck caught in a single day. Rainbows and browns predominate in the lower reaches of Greenbrier, while native trout numbers increase the higher up you go. When it comes to techniques, standard and time-tested patterns and approaches work best. On the dry fly side of the equation, think high-floating attractor patterns such as Deerhair (early spring) Royal Wulff, Adams Variant, Royal Trude, or Thunderhead on size 14 or 16 hooks. If you wish, and the method will likely up your catching odds a bit, tie a dropper a foot to a foot and a half below your dry fly. Good choices are pretty much any type of beadhead on a size 16 hook, or if you want to take a step back in time with a truly traditional pattern, use a sleek-bodied Yellarhammer. My personal favorites are either a Prince or Pheasant Tail nymph. In late summer and early fall, hopper patterns or an Elkhair Caddis are good alternatives to the above-mentioned dry flies. If the water happens to be a bit high or murky, consider stripping a small streamer (a Muddler Minnow is always a solid choice) through deeper plunge pools.
Stealth (keep a low profile and wear earth tone clothing), casts that focus on the delicacy of the delivery rather than distance, light tippets (5X or 6X), and a willingness to cover quite a bit of stream in the course of the day are the keys to the fishing. Smokies trout are of necessity opportunistic feeders, and once you have covered a larger hole with a dozen casts or so, or made half that number or less to pocket water, it’s time to move on. Each successive cast to the same spot comes with an ever-decreasing likelihood of a strike, and put in simple terms that translate to the wisdom, in a smallish stream such as Greenbrier, of you moving along at a pretty steady pace. That can mean, especially in the upper reaches, covering as much as a couple of miles in a day of fishing.
For serious blue line aficionados or those who are fit and full of energy, the Greenbrier drainage is a small slice of an angler’s backside of heaven. That’s because, in addition to Greenbrier Creek, there are a veritable bevy of small feeder streams holding trout. The most important of these are Porters Creek and Ramsay Prong, and ironically, they actually offer better trail access than the creek they feed. Ramsey Prong Trail, up to Ramsay Cascades where it ends, provides the hiking fisherman ample opportunities to hop into the stream wherever he wishes. Upstream of the Cascades there is no maintained trail, but that doesn’t mean the agile, intrepid fisherman has run out of places to cast. In fact, every avid Smokies fisherman owes it to himself, while he is still spry and has plenty of spring in his step, to make his way above the Cascades for the better part of a mile and drift a fly through indescribably lovely Drinkwater Pool.
Porters Creek is even better served, trail-wise, and its topography is also somewhat less rugged than either Ramsay Creek or upper Greenbrier. Add into the mix small feeder streams on the upper reaches of the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon (again, remember that’s just another name for Greenbrier)—including Buck Fork and Chapman, Lost, and Eagle Rocks prongs, all fine speckled trout streams, and you have something special. Realization dawns as to why Bobby Kilby, a peripatetic angler who has made it sort of a life mission to catch trout in as many park streams as possible (his meticulous records cover score after score of creeks, large and small), gives either “A” or “B” ratings (i. e., top-drawer trout water) to all the creeks in the Greenbrier drainage. The message, in short, is an obvious one. This is a gem of a GSMNP stream offering it all—ready accessibility in some places, incredible remoteness in others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A native of the Smokies, Jim Casada has spent a lifetime probing Park waters. To order a copy of his book on the area, Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: An Insider’s Guide to a Pursuit of Passion, or other books (including two autobiographical memoirs, A Smoky Mountain Boyhood and Fishing for Chickens: A Smokies Food Memoir, visit his website at jimcasadaoutdoors.com.